There have been quite a good number of espionage thrillers and undercover police films. "TRAITOR" is equal parts detective story and equal parts terrorist thriller. The direction and screenplay by Jeffrey Nachmanoff is taut, gripping and well blends together elements from the Hong Kong hit "Infernal Affairs" and the Bourne franchise, but it is also filed with social and theological undertones and messages.
After an arms deal in Yemen had gone awry, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda) is arrested and imprisoned with the same men that he has been accused of sabotaging the deal, by contacting the authorities. Samir is under fire from both sides, as the F.B.I. is putting pressure on him to reveal his contacts. When Omar (Said Taghmaoui) orchestrates a jailbreak, has little choice but to join the terrorist leader in his quest to wreak havoc in the United States. But who is Samir really working for?
The big draw of "Traitor" is its foreshadowing of Samir's intentions and motivations. The dialogue is kept at a pace to reveal only the minor details as the screenplay goes along, it makes the viewer work to figure out what Samir is really all about, and the script efficiently plays its cards right. Director Nachmanoff deals with certain factors to keep the tense atmosphere, and slowly leaks out more and more information about Samir's beliefs and character It was quite clever to show both the F.B.I. and the terrorist group going through his background. Samir is an ex- U.S. soldier and a very devout Muslim and much of the film focuses on him. There are some integral plot points as Agent Clayton and Agent Archer (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough respectively) to illustrate some of Samir's political beliefs and the intricate "motivational" speeches as Omar recruits new "martyrs" to their cause. There are also some disagreements between Fahid and Samir that give the audience some idea as to how different followers of Islam interpret the Qur'an. All these doses of dialogue are integral to the script as it manages to keep the viewer interested and intrigued.
The film also has a lot of emotion and the building tension almost never stops. It is the manner of which the film builds suspense through dialogue and significant scenes that helps the film's pacing and story telling. I liked the fact that there doesn't seem to be any political motives in the film although it does promote some parallels and contradictions in government practices to the terrorist organization. Political ideas and theological teachings are shown being misinterpreted to further extremist goals. But Nachmanoff instead focuses on the evils that men do, that all men's deeds will have to answerable to God. I suppose this is a subtle way to say that extremists are using theological beliefs to intentionally misdirect or "brainwash" their followers. The film isn't very "family-friendly" and definitely not for mainstream audiences with its dark tones of government, radicalism and Islam.
Now, the film's biggest credit would have to be Don Cheadle's terrific performance. Samir is a man of Allah and Cheadle bears his soul in his portrayal. Samir is also a skilled soldier, arsonist, bomber but above all, he is a man of God. Cheadle fills his character with an unorthodox sort of appeal, which makes his character all the more compelling and interesting. Guy Pearce (Memento) also does a good supporting performance as Agent Roy Clayton, in a way, he is a man of God but from a different belief--a son of a Baptist preacher. It was quite smart to have such a character dissect another's action. The film has a good pace and the cat and mouse game between Samir and Clayton make for very good entertainment.
The film does pay off in the end but I am sure there will be some viewers who may say that the film doesn't offer anything original and I do partly agree. However, the film proved very interesting to me and this time around, the "journey" itself is rewarding. The film's great cinematography (by J. Michael Muro) is full of tense atmosphere that accentuates its mood. Those who are looking for an action-packed film may be a little disappointed as this one doesn't rely heavily on explosions and action scenes; rather it depends on its screenplay to slowly unravel to its revelatory final act. The film does rely on the frightening idea of another terrorist attack on American soil that may turn off some viewers.
However, the film is highly-engrossing, a great film with a sensitive subject matter but doesn't dwell on political preaching but instead tries to go into the mindset of a man while using espionage-thriller elements. It is a nicely-shot, tense thriller with some food for thought and the strong performance of Don Cheadle just seals the deal .
Recommended! [4- Stars]
Video/audio: 1.78 ratio anamorphic widescreen that diverts from its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35. But it is a nice transfer, natural colors and the overall transfer appears pretty nifty. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is clear and powerful, but sadly there is no DTS track on the Dvd.
Bonus Features: Commentary by the director and Cheadle and a 10 minute behind the scenes look. The disc is pretty bare-bones.
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